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'People's petition' launched in bid to force referendum on directly elected mayor next year

PUBLISHED: 17:00 04 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:22 07 October 2019

Campaigners want to force a referendum on how Newham is governed. Picture: Steve Poston

Campaigners want to force a referendum on how Newham is governed. Picture: Steve Poston

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A "people's petition" has been launched to force a referendum next year after councillors voted to push the date back of a public vote on how the borough is governed.

Tahir Mirza said campaigners will be urging voting residents to add their name to the people’s petition for a referendum in 2020. Picture: Tahir MirzaTahir Mirza said campaigners will be urging voting residents to add their name to the people’s petition for a referendum in 2020. Picture: Tahir Mirza

Members of the campaign group, Democracy Newham, are knocking on doors in a bid to get five per cent of the voting population - 10,286 residents - to support their call to change the current directly elected mayor system.

If they can get the numbers, campaigners say it would force a referendum next year.

The move comes after councillors voted unanimously in favour of changing the date of a promised ballot from the same day as the London mayoral election on May 7, 2020, to a date between June 2020 and May 2021.

Democracy Newham campaigner, Tahir Mirza - who is also chairman of East Ham Labour Party - said: "East Ham Labour Party general committee recently committed to supporting a petition for a referendum to be held in 2020.

Newham Mayor Rohksana Fiaz. Picture: Ken MearsNewham Mayor Rohksana Fiaz. Picture: Ken Mears

"We will be urging voting residents to add their name to this people's petition so we may once more have a transparent, accountable and democratic structure of governance."

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The group fears that delaying the referendum beyond May 7 next year could see another four-year term begin under the current directly elected mayor system, which critics say is undemocratic because it concentrates too much power in one person's hands. However, the council denies this.

Newham Democracy argues that holding the referendum on the same day as the London mayoral election will save money and lead to a higher turnout.

The motion passed by councillors last month states "the timetable must be tightly maintained to guarantee that the implementation of any referendum result takes effect from May 2022".

A Newham Council spokesman said: "The law is clear that any change has to be implemented at the next local elections in May 2022.

"Changing the existing governance arrangements is a decision for Newham voters to make in the referendum that will be held. The council is committed to giving electors this choice."

He added that a clear time frame has been set for the referendum - with an indicative date of April 1, 2021 - ensuring "maximum participation and engagement" from voters.

It would also come after a democracy and civic participation commission has concluded on alternatives to Newham's current governance model.

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